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How does Alcohol affect your Mental Health?

14 units

Balance encourages people to stay within 14 unit weekly guideline

Posted 18/05/20

Ahead of Mental Health Awareness week (18 – 24 May), Balance is joining up with one of the region’s leading consultant psychiatrists to encourage people not to use alcohol as a coping mechanism during the COVID-19 crisis.

Alcohol and mental wellbeing are closely linked, as one of the main reasons people drink is to change their mood or mental health.

Many people might choose to pour themselves a drink to unwind after a hard day’s work or if they are feeling a bit low might have a drink as a ‘pick me up’. However, using alcohol as a coping mechanism to alleviate stress, or manage anxiety or depression or other mental health issues such as poor sleep can cause problems as alcohol is a depressant.

It comes as recent research from Alcohol Change UK and Balance, found that more than one quarter of North East adults (26%) who drink, are drinking more often since lockdown began on 23 March – although more than one in three (37%) have reduced how often they drink or stopped drink-ing altogether.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, regularly drinking alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain and can increase the risk of depression. Increased consumption can lead to feelings of low mood and anxiety. Even though alcohol can help us relax and give us more confidence, the effects are short-lived and instead of relieving anxiety and depression it can be a contributing factor.

Drinking too much can have a negative impact on mental health but it also affects physical health. Alcohol disrupts sleep, affects both short-term and long-term memory and concentration.

Balance is encouraging people to stay within the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units a week to protect both their physical and mental health. 14 units means around six pints of regular strength beer or lager, six standard glasses of wine or seven double measures of spirits.

Regularly drinking above the CMOs guidelines increases the risk of a whole range of conditions, including heart disease, liver disease, stroke and seven types of cancer. Heavy drinking can also increase the risk of respiratory disease.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “During this stressful time, it is more important than ever that we keep ourselves fit and healthy. The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is kindness – and this starts with ourselves and looking after our health and wellbeing.

“According to the Mental Health Foundation, alcohol is the ‘UK’s favourite coping mechanism’ and many people drink to help manage stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. If people are reaching for a drink most nights, their alcohol consumption will creep up, which can have serious health consequences. This can lead to worrying habits forming that are bad for our health in the long-term and may also make us feel more tired, anxious and sluggish in the short term.

“We know that many people are unaware of the drinking guidelines and the potential risks from exceeding them. We often under-estimate how much we are drinking. With pubs closing, home-poured measures can be a lot bigger and contain more units than the drinks people might buy down their local pub.

“We are encouraging people to take more drink free days and try to stay within no more than 14 units a week. Things might be tough right now but keeping alcohol in check is an important way to protect our overall health and fitness for the time when we emerge from this crisis.”

Prof Eilish Gilvarry, consultant psychiatrist in Addictions at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are all feeling more anxious at the moment but alcohol can be insidious in the way it creeps up into an everyday habit. People often use drinking as a relaxant but it can end up being more than “just one drink.”

“One of the best ways to look after ourselves and get into the best possible physical and mental health is to get enough good sleep. Regular heavy alcohol use interferes with quality sleep.

“People have a few drinks to get off to sleep, but don’t get good quality sleep, wake up earlier feeling restless and anxious, and carry with them that tired, anxious and sluggish feeling from both the alcohol and the sleep deprivation. People who have done Dry January often remember feeling much more alert and more positive.

“My advice is to be aware of your mood when you drink, be aware of why you drink and count how much you drink.”

Information, hints and tips are available at www.reducemyrisk.tv .

If anyone is worried about their drinking or someone else’s, contact the National Alcohol Helpline on: 0300 123 1110.

SEE TIPS BELOW


TOP TIPS FOR MANAGING ALCOHOL AND MENTAL HEALTH


· Don’t stockpile alcohol in the house. The chances are you will go through it faster.


· Take more Drink-Free Days – it’s a good way to keep your consumption in check


· With the schools closed, think about being a good role model to your kids around alcohol, which includes how often and how much you drink alcohol. None of us want to teach our children that we should be drinking every night.


· You can track your units, calories and money saved when you cut down or cut out alcohol through the Try Dry app.


· Visit http://www.reducemyrisk.tv/ to try the quiz about how well you know your alcohol units.


· Do other things - when things are tougher than normal, you might find yourself reaching for alcohol more often, so it’s worth finding some things you enjoy that don’t include alcohol. You could try a hot bath, playing video games, cooking a new recipe, watching a film or any-thing else that helps you unwind. You deserve it!


· Look after your general mental wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak – limit your time on social media, stay connected with your loved ones and try to do things that help your mind and body, like exercise and eating healthily.


· Remember alcohol doesn’t help in the long run. Many of us will have used alcohol to manage or cope with difficult emotions at some point. However, when this becomes a pattern it can be harmful, both to our mental and physical health.